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Dr. Jeremiah Wright
James & Grace Gunn

To learn more, contact the Development Associate, Office of Advancement:

Linda McKenzie


About FTE

 Dr. Jeremiah Wright
"There are students who take theological education and ministry seriously. They are the hope of the church."
Dr. Jeremiah Wright

Many years ago, when Jeremiah Wright was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School and, later, at United Theological Seminary, people in his church used to tell him, “God bless you, Reverend, we’re praying for you.”

“But praying doesn’t pay tuition,” says Dr. Wright, a former FTE Fellow who is now senior pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. “I swore if I ever got in a position to do so, I’d help make things easier on seminary students.”

And he has made good on that promise. Under his leadership, Trinity has over the years helped 38 students attend seminary and become ordained ministers.

Serious support for seminary students

As a part of this effort, the church partners with FTE to provide an FTE Fellowship for an African-American seminary student from its congregation each year. The church reimburses $6,500 a year towards each seminarian’s tuition and books. The students must be active in one of Trinity’s ministries and be enrolled at an accredited ATS seminary. In addition to helping students individually, Trinity has made the FTE a part of its annual Benevolence Budget for more than 15 years.

In addition to being active in a local church ministry,to qualify for tuition reimbursement, the student must have been a member of Trinity for at least two years and must attend Dr. Wright’s “Ministers in Training” (M.I.T.) class. The class, which meets monthly at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings during the school year, immerses the students in the study of books written by African-American scholars and books written about the African-American experience of religion.

More than 100 people typically attend the monthly M.I.T. class, including 40 members of Trinity who are studying at any of Chicago’s 11 seminaries or Divinity schools. Of those studying in the city, 28 are women. There are 15 seminarians who are studying at seminaries outside of Chicago.

As is the case across the nation, many of the Trinity seminarians are embarking on a second career. Seminary students who aren’t members of Trinity also attend the monthly M.I.T. classes, as do a number of ordained ministers who attended the classes while they were in seminary.

“I urge the ordained ministers and seminary graduates to keep studying with us so people can see that there is ‘life after seminary,’” Dr. Wright says.

A signal to African-American women

One of the ordained ministers who routinely sat in on the class until a recent move took her to another state was Thanda Ngcobo, the first seminary student to graduate with support from Trinity UCC. Thanda finished seminary in 1975 – a time when few African-American women were attending seminary and few role models were available.

“Thanda’s ordination sent a signal to African-American women,” Dr. Wright said. “As a result, more and more women started answering the call to ministry, knowing they could do that here at Trinity Church. At the time, most African-American churches weren’t encouraging women to go into ministry, so this opened the door to ministry for many young African-American women,” he said.

When Thanda was in seminary, she told Dr. Wright that she had not read one book by a black author or about black people.

“I was determined that anyone who was going to get support from us was going to have to read black authors in every discipline,” Dr. Wright said. This prompted him to start the class. The disciplines studied include: theology, church history, pastoral care and counseling, pastoral theology, the history of religions, ethics, Old Testament and New Testament and African centered pedagogy.

This year, Trinity is helping to fund an FTE North American Doctoral Fellowship for another promising young African-American woman, Vanessa Lovelace. Vanessa is now working on her Ph.D. on “Women Hebrew Prophets” at Chicago Theological Seminary.

“Vanessa is committed to the church,” Dr. Wright said. “She ‘s got the integrity, the head and the heart for ministry.”

A challenge to seminary students

Dr. Wright believes that today’s seminary students have the potential to make a tremendous difference in the direction of the church.

“I see the African-American church in serious trouble unless our seminary graduates figure out how to change what is still a strong strand of anti-intellectualism and a distrust of persons with theological education in our churches,” he said. “It’s up to them to make sure that both arms of the cross – love of others (the horizontal arm) as well as love of God (the vertical arm) – become central to the church’s efforts.

“Jesus did not come to make heaven a better place. If we are following the Christ who came to make heaven on earth, we need to think harder about the messages we are sending to our young people,” he said. “We need to think about how mainline churches might also use the media. There are students who take theological education and ministry seriously, “he said. “They are the hope of the church.”

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